Friday, 21 June 2013

The stupidity of Saskatchewan's "clean coal" project

  What happened to all the environmentalists in Saskatchewan? Are they only interested in nuclear power? Why are they all silent about Sask Power's ridiculous "clean coal" project? Are they all silent because this project was first pushed by the Saskatchewan NDP government?
Sask Power's Boundary Dam facility
   The final face of the carbon capture and sequestration project at Sask Power's Boundary Dam Station is being pumped by the mainstream media. Sask Power executives argue that we have hundreds of years of "cheap" coal to burn, why should we turn our backs on it? The NDP and the Sask Party agree. The project as it currently stands has a new coal-fired generator which is rated at 160 megawatts (MW). After the energy used to capture the carbon, it will produce between 100 and 115 MW to pump onto the grid. The total cost is reported to be $1.24 billion. What a bargain!
   The project is again being promoted by Bruce Johnstone, the financial editor of the Leader Post. Putting everything else aside, haven't these people ever heard of opportunity costs? If $1.24 billion was spent on other alternative energy projects, how much carbon dioxide would be saved? How many more jobs would be created? Since no one wants to take on this issue these days, and I am too busy to again visit the subject, here is a piece I wrote in 2007. There are very good alternatives to burning our grossly polluting coal.

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“Clean Coal” is the Wrong Road to Take

by John W. Warnock

Regina Leader-Post
May 3, 2007

    Lorne Calvert’s NDP government and SaskPower seem determined to saddle the people of Saskatchewan with a new “clean coal” generating facility. The research has been done, the Estevan site has been chosen, and the project’s supplying corporations are on side. The 300 Megawatt (MW) plant will cost between $1.5 and $2.0 billion. But this is clearly not the best way to produce energy nor to reduce carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions.
    In the first place, coal fired generators are very inefficient, capturing only around 33% of the energy in the combustion process; the remaining two thirds of the energy produced is dissipated into the environment. This waste energy cannot be captured and used where power plants are far removed from industrial projects and population centres.
    The “clean coal” aspect of this project is the Oxyfuel system used to capture around 90% of the carbon dioxide, compress and chill it to liquid form, and then pump it deep into the ground for sequestration. Unfortunately, this is an expensive and inefficient process. Of the total 450 MW of electricity to be produced by the new plant, 150 MW will be used in the Oxyfuel and geological storage process. As many studies have argued, down the road carbon dioxide sequestration may permit the continued use of coal for power generation. But it is no solution to the current problem of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.    
    Furthermore, the carbon dioxide extracted by the proposed SaskPower plant will be used to enhance oil recovery. The liquid carbon dioxide is pumped into the permeable oil bearing rock strata, is dissolved in the oil which reduces its viscosity, and it then sweeps the more mobile oil to the production wells. This is the system presently used by EnCana at Midale. Some of the pumped carbon dioxide escapes in this process. And of course this strategy completely undermines the goal of carbon sequestration as more petroleum is extracted and consumed, creating even more greenhouse gas emissions.
    Building a very expensive new power plant at Estevan further commits Saskatchewan and Sask Power to a highly centralized system of electrical power production and distribution. We have a great many alternative sources of energy, and their development requires a decentralized system. We must also plan for disasters which are caused by climate change. In January 1998 there was an ice storm in Quebec, and many areas were without power for several weeks. What would a similar event do to Saskatchewan?  How many people would die?


Seattle shows how it should be done
    Last January I was in Seattle doing research and I looked into the energy strategy of Seattle City Light, a municipal public utility. In the 1920s they built three dams on the Skagit River which serve as their base supply. They also contract for some power from the Bonneville Power Administration. In 1976 they opted out of the Washington Public Power Supply plan to build nuclear reactors and chose instead to promote conservation. In 2002 they contracted to purchase power from the Stateline Wind Project on the Oregon-Washington border.
    But the Seattle area has the highest annual population growth of any region in the United States. Therefore, in 2006 Seattle City Light produced an integrated plan for power development for the period 2007-2025. Over this period they will add 460 MW of electrical power. This will include 142 MW from conservation, 100 MW from geothermal development, 55 MW from additional wind sources, 25 MW from landfill gas, and 15 MW from biomass energy. The total projected capital cost of these additions is only $170 million.
    For many years Seattle City Light has been providing direct financial incentives to promote conservation and the purchase of more efficient appliances. They have a very basic demand management system: for the first 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) consumed a household pays 3.76 cents a kWh, above that the cost is 7.93 cents kWh. They are now promoting individual household and business production of solar, wind and biomass electricity. Through a net metering system households are paid market price for the energy they provide to the city grid. Households and businesses who install new generating facilities get city, state and federal rebates and tax incentives.
    Seattle City Light is only one example of how communities can shift to renewable energy. How long do we have to wait before a Saskatchewan government takes this issue seriously?

John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and environmental activist.

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